The capital of Switzerland is truly picture-perfect, with a provincial Old Town sitting on a hill along the glittering river Aare and surrounded by the majestic snow-covered Alps. It may be the federal capital of the country, but Bern (also spelled Berne) is far from chaotic. And it's the city's laid-back atmosphere and characteristic warmth that attracts visitors here year after year.
That, and the wealth of historic landmarks that have granted the Old City ("Altstadt") UNESCO World Heritage status. One of the main attractions here is the six kilometres of arcades, or "Lauben," as the locals call them, that stretch through the city center. These weather-proof covered streets make up the longest shopping promenade in all of Europe.
Travellers who aren't seeking retail therapy tend to visit Bern to catch a glimpse of its gorgeous sandstone buildings and well-preserved medieval architecture. The impressive Zytglogge, for example, is a landmark medieval tower dating back to the 13th century. Its 15th-century astronomical clock is one of the most recognizable symbols in the city and a popular tourist attraction. And on the south side of the peninsula is the Gothic Bern Minster (Berner Münster), a Swiss Reformed cathedral that towers over the old city.
The main language spoken in Bern is the Bernese-German dialect, although most locals also speak standard German as well as English and French! Thanks to the prestigious University of Bern, which was founded in 1834, the city has a strong student population, which means lots of bars and restaurants to keep you busy throughout your trip. It's not quite as lively as other Swiss cities like Zurich, but there are plenty of activities and cultural attractions that give Bern an appealing edge.